Live review: Blonde Redhead, Olof Arnalds @ the Ogden TheatreBy Sam DeLeo and Nathan Iverson | November 29th, 2010 | 2 comments
This was going to be a tough slog for melancholy — especially as found in the cool, low current suffusing much of the music of Blonde Redhead.
Icelandic sprite Olof Arnalds had just left the stage at the Ogden Theatre on Saturday night, and she might as well have skipped as she did so. A classically-trained violinist and a troubadour of Icelandic folk music, Arnalds possesses a pristine voice that she accompanies with light plucking on guitar and charango. But these were songs for a coffee house, not a 1,700 capacity rock venue, and there were moments it seemed the crowd might completely drown her out. She was undaunted.
A few bars after introducing a song about a small Icelandic town, she stopped singing and turned to the audience — “That’s all there is — it’s a very small town.” She followed “an encouragement song” that she wrote for her sister’s 18th birthday with a cover of Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso’s song for his sister, singer Maria Bethania. By the time she had coaxed the near sell-out crowd to “sing the string and horns” parts of a song, one almost expected various woodland creatures to emerge on stage with their instruments in tow.
Amid a host of flickering golden incandescent light bulbs and floods of blue and purple lasers, Blonde Redhead then took the stage and shifted the mood dramatically as they eased into “Black Guitar” from this year’s “Penny Sparkle.” Vocalist Kazu Makino, adorned in a white headdress fringed with blonde hair, traded vocals with guitarist Amedeo Pace over a sparse hand-drum patch and synthesizer. Makino finished with the haunting line, “No one shadows the retina of your heart.”
Blonde Redhead has never been afraid of changing their sound from album to album, and yet what seems inescapable for them is the sense of mystery they bring to the music. They can make a simple drum track and synthesizer cinematic. They render minor chords strangely danceable.
On “Dr. Strangelove” from the 2007 album “23,” Pace kicked up the tempo on a major scale with tension from the song’s dueling guitar tones. Twin brother and drummer Simone Pace pushed the song forward and Makino swayed across the stage singing the story about the infamous doctor. The wall of umbrella-shaped photographer light kits backing the stage illuminated and the crowd soaked in the swell of energy.
The off-kilter dance beat of “In Particular” from 2000’s “Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons” gave way to an almost jaunty keyboard line. Pace added stinging jabs on guitar and Makino’s high-pitched voice, sounding stronger live than on the band’s studio recordings, led the refrain, “X…X-X, Alex!”
“Falling Man” from 2004’s “Misery Is A Butterfly” was preceded with more dry ice fog than a Robert Smith Halloween party, but the way in which the white lights suddenly flashed on and Pace powered through on guitar was stunning, not kitschy. “I know a ghost can walk through the wall/Yet I am just a man still learning how to fall,” he sang.
After witnessing a perfect marriage of light and sound, the crowd’s enthusiasm was rewarded with two encores that proved to be the highpoints of the night. The band tore through “Equus,” “23,” “Melody of Certain 3” and “I Still Get Rocks Off” with a passion that matched the frenzied flashing white lights on stage.
The slow bounce of “Silently” closed the show, another glimpse into the trials of love and the somber-sided life.
Who knew mystery, melancholy and longing could be this satisfying?
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and is currently finishing his second novel.
Nathan Iverson is a Denver photographer and regular contributor to Reverb.